Sex at Dawn: A Review

“A reasonable relaxation of moralistic social codes making sexual satisfaction more easily available would also make it less problematic.”

Sex at Dawn (2010) by Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan.

I have always been a questioner. Growing up in a very non-traditional family set my curiosity antenna on high alert from the get go. While my friends’ nuclear family settings held some small appeal to a very young me, every year more and more parents were divorcing, tearing families apart. Meanwhile, my mother was a constant. Her partners came and went, and I formed strong bonds with each of them. I would even go so far as to tack their surnames onto mine while mum was with them, and think of them as secondary parents. I am happy to say that I count several of them among my close friends and role models in adulthood.

To a lot of people, this might sound bizarre. What do you mean, you’ve had numerous mothers over the years? Where’s your father? Wasn’t it devastating to have such an unstable childhood?

That’s just it – it was far more stable in the ways that count than many of my peers’. In fact, I am eternally grateful for it, but that’s a story for another time. What my childhood introduced to me, my dating life reinforces, and Sex at Dawn confirms, is that humans are not biologically suited to lifelong monogamy. Our closest genetic cousins, chimps and bonobos, would scoff at the idea of monogamy (do apes scoff?). Sex is, first and foremost, about continuing your genetic line, so it makes sense to reproduce with as many mates as possible. One particularly strong piece of evidence that is present in these cousins and in us, Homo sapiens, is sperm competition. I’m not a biologist, so I won’t pretend to know all the details. What matters is that human sperm contains chemicals that protect dude B’s little swimmers from dude A’s. That is, “…competing sperm from other men seems to be anticipated in the chemistry of men’s semen”. This is huge. As are human testicles, another significant piece of evidence in the argument against monogamy. Monogamous primates have tiny balls. Itty bitty. The itty bitty ball committee exists, but humans aren’t in it, because our bodies predict multiple sexual partners. This can also be seen in the shape of the human penis, particularly the head or glans. That rim is perfectly designed to scoop out the sperm of any recent mates.

This trend can also be found in the child bearers of the species, particularly in a lil thing called female copulatory vocalisation. Or, in layman’s terms, moaning. So, what’s all the moaning about? It might disappoint some of you to know that it isn’t just about how good you are in the sack. On a biological level, humans, like our far hairier cousins, use FCV as a way to let other mates in the vicinity know they are ready to roll. They are fertile, they are willing, they are ready to get down and make some babies.

Science aside for a second, we all know that most modern humans don’t use sex primarily as a baby-making activity. Not only does this discount many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, but even cishets (cisgender, heterosexual people) tend to associate sex with everyone’s favourite p-word: pleasure.

With the ingenious invention of contraception, humans are now able to copulate but not necessarily populate. Let’s go back to primates for a second. In particular, our closest cousin, the bonobo. We are genetically closer to a bonobo than African elephants are to Indian ones, and bonobos are one of the few non-human animals that have sex for pleasure (see also: pigs and dolphins). Interestingly, scientists excitedly compare us to them in almost every way- except (surprise surprise) sexually. Even today, sex is a taboo subject in which deviation from the norm is often pushed aside and ignored. Thankfully that is changing slowly but surely, as LGBT people have more rights than ever before (though still not enough, let’s be real) – but non-monogamy is still widely shunned, especially in the West.

I’m not here to tell you that monogamy is wrong, and neither is Sex at Dawn. It simply provides a different perspective, one that should be seriously considered by anyone questioning the traditional narrative. So, dear readers, go forth and copulate. With as many people as you like (safely, legally, and, as always – with consent).

What are your experiences with non-monogamy? Have you read Sex at Dawn, and if so, what did you think?

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2 thoughts on “Sex at Dawn: A Review

  1. I haven’t read the book, but I think I might. An excellent article, Isobella. I’ve never hand sex babies. It’s always been for pleasure. I don’t know why sex has to be so taboo. It shouldn’t be, because it’s a totally natural act – just as natural as breathing!


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